Thursday, February 24, 2011

More on Using Photos as References for Landscape

Today I thought I would show some average photos that you might take on a trip or walk in the woods, and how I might change them to develop a painting from them.
Nature is never going to give you a perfect composition.. or, it'll happen so rarely that you might as well say "never".  This is true in painting from life, and it is even more true in using photo references. Photos do not portray true values (the darks usually look TOO dark) or colors, so if you're going to paint from photos you really do have to be on your toes and THINK about these things, along with the design elements as well.

Here's the first photo:
This little street scene intrigues me. It has a nice center of interest.. that sunlit building on the right. It has nice light and shadow patterns, and a good lead-in with the road. Is that a sleeping dog in the road? I can't decide.
If I were to paint this, I would make these changes:
Change the road to dirt with nicely softened edges. That blends better with the ramshakle appearance of the buildings, and is a chance to add some nice color too.
Remove the telephone pol and the round object on the left roof. That would just become a plain chimney.
I would re-design the distant tree for a more abstract appearance.. it's a little too symmetrical.
 I would increase the size very slightly of the red building in the distance - that could become the focal point if you wanted, and I would give some hint that the road continues in the distance, perhaps rolling over a few hills or dips..
And lastly, I think this would be a perfect scene to place a few figures - they would automatically become the main attraction. Or, you could take advantage of that dog, and let him be a little note of "life".

After I published this, I thought, "Oh, what the heck, I'll do up a quick sketch of one of the photos as an example. So I did, and this is, literally, a 30 min. painting on a piece of scrap canvas. It's not intended to be finished work:. I just wanted to emphasize how you can use a photo as a "jumping off point" - but install your own ideas, color, and design.

I threw the front into shadow, and there is a wonderful opportunity here for dappled sunlight, both on the road and on the stone fence.  I hinted at a flowering vine growing over the wall.. that's a nice chance for some color in there.  I simplified the left building, and decided that  the far red "building" was really a fence (and yes, upon closer inspection, that IS a sleeping dog)  I just left the fence or stone wall, really, sort of ambiguous and put two figures looking over it to what I presume is a church yard, given the steeple we can see. There are some really great chances for beautiful colorful reflected light in here.. bright sunlight will have colors bouncing back all over the this could work up in to a really nice painting if you wanted.

The camera writes a book report, recording all the facts.
But painting is poetry.  You are trying to make a beautiful statement that is lyrical and engaging.  

Here's another with possibilities.

This is a  pretty good photo.. it has most of the elements you would want..  It has three planes: foreground, middle ground, and background.  It has a good lead-in with the shore and water. The break in the distant trees gives us an "escape route" to the mountain - the trees aren't a solid wall. All those are nice characteristics.
Here's some changes.
First of all, decide if you want the figures. I think they provide a nice focal point, and a chance to put some great spots of color, especially red, in a very green landscape.  You don't want ALL sets of figures however, only one is needed, so decide where you want it. Since we read from left to right, typically, our eye enters a scene from the left and travels, so I tend to put centers of interest towards the right hand side. Otherwise, the eye gets to them too soon, and the trip is over and no place to go! You could use one of these figures , or import another from a different photo. I would probably do that. I think a canoe makes a nicer statement than the rafts, so I'd go through my photo files and find some canoers. Remember if you do this that the light needs to be consistent, so make sure your imported photos have the same direction of light as your background photo, or you will have to change that when you paint it.
Second, the fir trees are too symmetrical.. Be sure an add some variety to their edges, and probably put a dead one in there, just for eye candy. They are also too GREEN (a typical shortcoming of evergreens), so
add more reds and browns in your mixes to change that up.
I'd also probably change the line of the distant mountains, so that there is not that big "U" shape formed between them and the nearer slope on the right.  That could become more cliffy instead of rounded, and maybe even redden that up a little - warm it up certainly, to differentiate it from the far mountains.
Decide whether we even need clouds in the sky... sometimes they can act as design elements. There's enough going on in the photo otherwise, that they might not be needed.  But that's a decision that you'll have to make.

Here's one more:

This photo has one major flaw.  There is foreground (grass and rocks) and middle ground (trees) but no background!  Try to find three planes- this tends to give you the best composition.
However, there's a real easy fix for that problem.  All you'd need to do is open up the line of trees somewhat and throw in a distant slope visible behind them. Problem solved!
This is good chance to use your design smarts too, as you could place those rocks as your lead in. Just be sure you group them, and don't dot them like little gumdrops over the grass.  Take advantage of those nice red weeds to add beautiful accent color.  And, you can also take advantage of the nice bright birch trunks against the dark pines - pick one of those to be your main focal point and make it "more" than the others..

That's probably enough for today.  I hope that gives you even more ideas of what to do with all those pictures you took on last summer's vacation!

No comments: